NASA’s ‘Hidden Figures’ in line for a top award
US senators seeking to recognise four African-American women for their key roles
Four brilliant African-American women who played a key role in the Space Race of the 1960s are on course for the USA's highest civilian award. The ‘Hidden Figures’ – so-called because of a 2016 biographical drama movie which highlighted their roles – could receive Congressional Gold Medals. It would suitably honour the efforts of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden more than half-a-century later.
The proposal has been put forward by Senators Chris Coons, Lisa Murkowski, Kamala Harris and 44 colleagues as the ‘The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act’. “Each of these women played an important role at NASA during the space race, but for many years their accomplishments remained hidden,” said Senator
Chris Coons in a statement. “This bill will help recognise these extraordinary women and bring their accomplishments into the light so they can serve as an inspiration to younger generations of women in science, particularly those of colour.”
Johnson's calculations of orbital mechanics at NASA ensured the success of human spaceflight, including that of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, in 1961, and the first American in orbit, John Glenn, a year later. Her calculations paved the way for the Space Shuttle program, and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Vaughan became the first AfricanAmerican supervisor at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) where she led the West
Area Computing unit. Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at NASA while Darden, who spent most of her 40-year career in aerodynamics at NASA, was the first African-American women at the Langley Research Center to be promoted to the topranking Senior Executive Service.
Katherine Johnson was one of three black NASA mathematicians highlighted in the 2016 filmHidden Figures